Implementation Insights Blog

Implementation Management Associates help organizations around the world achieve large-scale, complex change. This blog discusses our insights into organizational change.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Managing Resistance is a Core Competence

Whether a change is perceived as negative or positive, reluctance to change is inevitable. It’s not all bad -- take advantage of its good side. It’s helpful and necessary project feedback. However, you must work with it - it’s not something you overcome or beat down, nor is it ever solved. Remember, people will resist not only the content of the change, but also the method of the change.
Speed is a Competitive Advantage
The speed with which an organization can change is as much a competitive advantage as best in class manufacturing operations or world class supply chain processes. How quickly an organization assimilates change is a distinctive competence in today’s market place.
A number of variables influence the speed of organizational change. One of the key ones is organizational/individual resistance. Managing resistance effectively is paramount to accelerating change adoption and project implementation -- i.e., moving well beyond merely coping with change. As the pace of change continues to accelerate, it’s obvious that managing resistance is a greater challenge and a more critical organizational skill.
Ineffective resistance management slows down, and sometimes derails, implementation efforts. Approaches such as discounting resistance, denying it exists, or trying to beat it down, paradoxically exacerbate resistance and thus increase the organizational/personal costs of the change.
The impact of unmanaged resistance is clear -- implementation efforts are more likely to be over budget, behind schedule, and not to expected specification. In other words, “you don’t get the change you thought you needed.”
Though resistance is inevitable, it neither has to be interminable nor a barrier to implementation. Indeed, it can be a solution and not just a nagging problem. Purposefully managing resistance increases communication, promotes genuine involvement, builds resiliency, and creates opportunity for buy-in to occur. It’s an essential and high impact tactic for accelerating change.
Two Essential Paths
Resistance management has two paths -- systemic and transactional. The former consists of the purposeful and strategic approach that guides intervention at the organizational level. It’s the accepted frame of reference for how resistance is be viewed and attended to. The latter is the one-on-one, eye-ball to eye-ball interaction with a resistor. It’s the personal, emotional, and personalized dialogue about the source of, and solution to, one’s reluctance to “get on board” with the change. Both paths are essential.
The systemic path is the one less traveled. Few implementation teams have the discipline to proactively consider the sources of resistance throughout the life of a change effort. Most, by default, are put in the position to at best react in fits and starts to the symptoms of resistance, but seldom to its sources. Meanwhile, the transactional path suffers from travelers who simply do not have the interpersonal awareness, social skills, patience, or empathy, to work with resistors. The Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) deals with both paths with specific strategies and tactics for dealing with resistance.
As counter-intuitive as it might seem, overt resistance is better than covert -- because if you can’t see it, you can’t manage it. Reward (don’t shoot) the messenger. No retribution for diverse opinions, o.k.?
Read our new White Paper on Managing Resistance to Change. Email Paula Alsher, Vice President, Client Solutions at for a copy.

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